Washington Wizards vs.
Cheap Toronto Raptors Basketball Tickets?
Opened: February 20, 1999
Capacity: 19,300 seats
Mascot: The Raptor
Dance Team: Dance Pak
Team Chant: Let's Go RAP-Tors!
Lg Draft Beer: $12.39
Hot Dog: $4.65
Air Canada Centre
40 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5J2X2
Arena Parking: $21.00
NBA Basketball Arena Review - Air Canada Centre
The NBA expanded into Canada in 1995 with the addition of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies to the league. Although the Grizzlies had a six year run in Vancouver that ended when they moved to Memphis in 2001, the Toronto Raptors are still going strong. Toronto, Ontario is a thriving, multi-cultural metropolis that’s full of sports fans and although the Toronto Maple Leafs are wildly popular in this ice hockey Mecca, the Toronto Raptors have carved out a place of their own in the hearts of Torontonians.
My visit to Toronto to watch the Toronto Raptors take on the Washington Wizards at the Air Canada Centre began early Friday morning. Coming west into the city from the eastern suburb of Whitby, Ontario, I knew I’d have the dreaded Torontonian traffic to deal with. If you find yourself having to travel into the city from any of the outlying suburbs be sure to allow for extra time as the highways heading into the city are like parking lots for much of the day.
I began with lunch at The Jersey Giant, an excellent little pub located along Front Street just northwest of the Air Canada Centre. The Jersey Giant is your typical local bar and restaurant. A friendly wait staff and a truly exceptional menu await those interested in some familiar comfort food that’s served in a casual atmosphere. With everything from your typical pub grub like shepherd’s pie, fish and chips and great burgers to pasta dishes, steak or chicken , their menu is well rounded to include a variety of other options as well. I went with their fresh cut Halibut fish and chips and a side of poutine. Poutine is a Canadian staple that originated in Quebec in the late 1950's. It's a side dish made up of french fries topped with fresh cheese curds and covered in a brown gravy. You haven't truly experienced our neighbor to the north until you downed a plate of poutine. NBA fans will also find that the Jersey Giant is great place to grab a pint of draft beer and mix it up with some of Toronto’s locals before heading into the Air Canada Center for a game.
After the Jersey Giant, I wandered into a few other local pubs to prepare myself for the evening’s festivities. Visitors to the Toronto area will want to be sure to check out Flatiron & Firkin for brew. Situated in the basement of the Flatiron Building which is located on the narrow wedge between Front Street and Wellington Street, Flatiron & Firkin is a heavily trafficked pregame haunt for many of Toronto’s most avid sports fans. Simply take the stairway down to the lower level to find this quaint, but comfortable local gem. The pub itself is long and narrow with a few booths located across from the bar, but the patrons are friendly and there’s always a fine selection of local drafts. Toward the back of the bar, the angular construction opens up to allow for more seating space with additional booths and tables bathed in a traditional décor that adds to the familiar feel of the place. Seating can be tough at times, so I highly suggest going early if you’re trying to squeeze in a visit. In addition to Flatiron & Firkin, I also like to stop in at Scotland Yard, Fionn MacCool’s Irish Pub, and Hoops Sports Bar and Grill.
Prior to gametime at the Air Canada Center, the place to be is comfortably situated in view of the two-story flat screen television at Real Sports Bar and Grill, located just across the street. Real Sports was recently declared, “North America’s Best Sports Bar” by ESPN and its reputation is well deserved. A modern, open area layout, accented with minimalist sports décor gives Real Sports the look and feel of an exclusive night club, but the multiple bars areas, elevated booths, and flatscreen TV’s scream luxury sports bar. In addition, a winding staircase to the second floor leads patrons to the balcony level where private parties can be staged for VIP’s. I was in town during the first weekend of the NCAA March Madness Basketball tournament so the place was packed, but I was assured that even during the week, if you’re looking for table at Real Sports, it’s best to arrive in the early afternoon. The atmosphere at Real Sports is incredible. A darkened room with multiple flat screens that flank the largest indoor HDTV in North America, nicely compliment an impressive dinner menu that offers a variety of snack foods and draft beer as well. The energy within the place is unquestionable as sports fans monitor the latest goings on in the world of sports attended to by a wait staff of Perfect 10’s. Whether you’re looking for a pre or post game meal or just a place to grab a beer among some of the greatest sports fans in southern Ontario, Real Sports provides a fantastic venue for mingling and immersion into televised professional sports.
Gametime came quickly and soon I was headed to the Air Canada Centre for the Raptors matchup against the Washington Wizards. Stepping into the main concourse, I immediately noticed how busy and alive the concourse appeared. Neon-lit signs, walls of glowing advertisement flatscreens and a variety of concession options tend to channel the typical sports fan’s attention in a variety of directions. Public bars areas like the Molson Canadian Brewhouse were filled with fans and the diversity of southern Ontario was reflected in the plethora of food options available. Walking through the concourse was like perusing a lively restaurant district. Sure the standard stadium fodder was on hand, but it was accented by gourmet sandwiches and wraps, massive burritos, fresh sushi, multi-topping hotdogs, and some exceptional deserts (deep fried smores, funnel cake fries with ice cream, giant cookies) The Air Canada Centre has some of the best concessions I’ve seen at an arena anywhere.
As soon as the game began, a new energy dominated the arena, the energy of a supportive base of fans looking to inspire a Raptors victory. With superstar Chris Bosh no longer making his home in the Toronto area, it’s up to an emerging group of young NBA stars to carry the torch for Toronto. Led by DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, and Jose Calderon, the Raptors dominated an even younger Washington Wizards team led by former number one overall pick John Wall. Wearing green uniforms in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the new look Raptors outlasted the Wizards by a score of 116-107.
The postgame celebration led me to Gabby’s, a Toronto area chain that’s more neighborhood bar than cookie cutter franchise. Gabby’s is a great place to unwind after a game downtown and meet up with some friends while the Toronto area traffic thins out. They have a great selection of draft beer and a solid menu of pub foods. Visiting Toronto is always a good time and hanging with my Canadian brethren as one of their own is a welcome change, especially as part of my Roundball RoadTrip. Go Raptors!
For more information on the city of Toronto, Ontario check out my other reviews by clicking on the links below:
NBA: Toronto Raptors, Air Canada Centre - General Information
NHL: March 19, 2011 - Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs, Air Canada Centre - General Information